March 28 - April 17, 2021: Issue 489


Seaweed Forests Festival, Manly: April 9th - May 9th, 2021

Manly Art Gallery and Museum

Photo credit: Stefan Andrews, Ocean Imaging.

The Seaweed Forests Festival blends science, art and food in a celebration of the lush underwater ecosystems that line the Sydney coastline, as well as the entire Great Southern Reef.


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Generously funded by the My Community Grant program from the NSW Government, this festival invites the community to participate in a celebration of our remarkable underwater forests through engagement with science and the communicative power of art. There will be panel discussions, hands-on restoration work, snorkelling tours, tastings of seaweed delicacies, and much more.

The festival will feature scientists from the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, and a host of leading thinkers including Professor Tim Flannery and Shane Gould AM, all housed within a stunning art installation, ‘Seaweed Arboretum’ by acclaimed artists Jennifer Turpin and Michaelie Crawford at the Manly Art Gallery and Museum.

An exciting education piece will ensure the festival has an ongoing legacy for the whole community that encourages stewardship of Sydney’s marine environment for generations to come.


Seaweeds are the underwater trees that support our coastline, here in Sydney, along 8,000 km of interconnected reefs along Australia’s Great Southern Reef and in most temperate coastlines around the world. Seaweeds create underwater forests that are among the most productive and biodiverse ecosystems in the world.

Seaweeds and seaweed-associated animals have been used for food and materials by Indigenous peoples around the world for thousands of years. Seaweeds continue to be used in all sorts of wonderfully innovative ways as food complements, fertilisers, and cosmetics. They can even be used to brew beer, and seaweeds also have unique properties that make them a particularly good choice for new sustainable textile fibres.

Like land plants, seaweeds absorb carbon dioxide as they grow and are therefore an important ‘carbon-sink’ that can help us to mitigate greenhouse gas emissions.


The installations in Seaweed Arboretum provide a poetic and experiential ‘habitat’ for Manly’s Seaweed Forest Festival. The exhibition has been developed especially for the Festival, and is the most recent project in a long-term collaboration between artists Jennifer Turpin and Michaelie Crawford, the Sydney Institute of Marine Science, Operation Crayweed, UNSW Sydney and the University of Sydney.

An aerial Forest of giant sculpted bull-kelp is suspended from a ceiling in a darkened gallery. Illuminated by slowly moving light, the dramatic installation is submersive and atmospheric. In another gallery, a collection of seaweed Flora casts intricate shadows, evoking a suspended memory of the seaweeds’ aqueous life. In a further gallery, an aerial installation of delicate seaweeds gently Float in currents of air, reminiscent of their prior suspension in currents of water.

Preparation for the exhibition began after coastal storms, when the seaweeds were collected from shorelines in Sydney, the NSW South Coast and South Australia.

Artists Jennifer Turpin and Michaelie Crawford said the installations reflect an amazing process of transformation from deep ocean seabed to the terra firma of an art gallery. 

“The seaweeds are sculpted while they are still wet. To create the pressed seaweeds, their moisture is slowly extracted between sheets of paper in large-scale presses. The suspended seaweeds swell to three times their final size when rehydrated for sculpting. As they dry, the seaweeds are gently coaxed into forms that are suggested by the seaweeds themselves.

“These artworks are the outcome of a ‘dialogue’ between ourselves and the seaweeds in the process of making.”

“In the exhibition, there is an aerial ‘forest’ of giant sculpted bull-kelp suspended from the ceiling in a darkened gallery. A slowly moving light illuminates the seaweeds, and casts shifting shadows on the walls and floor, enveloping the viewer in a rhythmic and meditative experience. This dramatic installation is submersive and atmospheric.

“In another gallery room, an array of intricate seaweed ‘flora’ pressings cast delicate shadows on gallery walls as a memory of the seaweeds’ aqueous life, and in a third space, an aerial installation of seaweeds gently ‘float’ in currents of air, reminiscent of their suspension underwater.

L to R: Artists Jennifer Turpin and Michaelie Crawford working on the seaweed exhibits in their Chippendale studio - photo by Ian Hobbs.

Photo: Seaweed Arboretum Bull kelp - image courtesy NBC


The festival encourages us to immerse ourselves in the wonder of seaweeds, and to connect with the science of seaweed. A founding aim of the research team of Operation Crayweed is to make the science visible. The team are successfully restoring lost crayweed along the Sydney coast and collecting a passionate band of community custodians along the way.

There are now two reforested 

 sites on the Northern Beaches and Festival goers can see the science up close with guided snorkelling tours at Cabbage Tree Bay, and hands-on restoration workshops at Freshwater.

Leading marine scientists will also be on hand to guide you through an exploration of  the diversity of local seaweeds, and prepare to be swept away by Stefan Andrew’s Great Southern Reef educational workshop.

Photo: Seaweed Arboretum crayweed - image courtesy NBC

Photo: Seaweed Arboretum crayweed - image courtesy NBC


The festival invites the community to participate in a range of exciting, and FREE, panel discussions, hands-on restoration work, snorkelling tours, tastings of seaweed delicacies, and much more. There's something for everyone and all age groups. Visit for the full event schedule with links to book your spot!

Join EcoTreasures Tours for a plunge into one of Sydney’s most pristine seaweed reefs. Our first snorkel tour has been booked out so we’ve added another on 1 May from 10am-12pm! Limited numbers so hurry quick to book your spot at


The Sydney Institute of Marine Science (SIMS) is committed to developing, activating and communicating the ‘science we need, for the oceans we want,’ throughout the UN Decade of Ocean Science (2021-2030) and beyond.

This goal requires collaboration, and SIMS is uniquely equipped to draw on the expertise of a broad diversity of skills in marine science through its partnership with UNSW Sydney, the University of Sydney, the University of Technology Sydney, and Macquarie University. SIMS research is solution focused and results in novel approaches for responding to a range of environmental challenges.

Operation Crayweed is one of SIMS’ Flagship projects – a great success story where the science of restoring Sydney’s underwater forests, is actively shared with local communities in a way that encourages an enduring stewardship and passion for the marine environment.

To find out more, please visit

Image: A SIMS scientist planting crayweed at Cabbage Tree Bay, Manly. Photo SIMS